It was a brutally hot summer afternoon in any suburban sprawl America. A young man parked his car and walked into a brick building nicely isolated from the other businesses by several parking lots.
"I'm looking for a heavy duty snare stand, the last one I had broke."
The young man, tall and thin, knew where the pieces were at. He knew that the salesman was going to try and sell him some exorbitantly overpriced brand name piece of equipment.
(This is ridiculous. I'm not even buying the instrument and I'm going to lay down a few hours' work.)
You see, he only told the clerk what he was looking for because he wanted to have a conversation. There are two people who work at the mid-sized music store. I call it mid-sized because while it certainly isn't the music mega-store, where friendly sales associates assist customers in making their purchases, it also isn't the mom and pop shop where your friend cuts you a deal on every last thing you buy, from a Fender Stratocaster all the way down to a handful of Dunlop picks. It isn't somewhere between either; it is one of the two stores, depending on which of the two people are working.
(Where is Sean? I know he works on Wednesdays. I want to know how Olivia is doing, and I'm sure he'd be glad to see me.)
Today, the lanky bastard dealt with the friendly sales associate. Although his friend wasn't working, the tall, thin man was stuck in the assumption that he was.
"My friend was pounding on my drums and broke the snare stand."
"Why isn't he buying the new one?"
"He's doing me a huge favor by just playing the drums."
(I kept rambling on about my pathetic band. He doesn't care about this.)
After making eyes at the snare stands costing well over fifty dollars, the lanky bastard settled on a fine heavy-duty unit coming in at just $20.99.
(How hard do people hit the snare drum? Half of these stands weigh ten pounds.)
"My card isn't swiping, is it?"
"...I need another form of payment..."
They both muffled laughs.
"See you later."
Back in the devastating heat of the angry summer sunlight, the tall young man wiped the sweat off of his forehead and lowered the windows of his car before getting in. He threw the hunk of metal he just bought in the backseat, along with the paper receipt.
(The receipt is going to fly out of the window, but I don't care.)
He turned on the car and drove out of the parking lot. His mind raced between the stimulation of the four young women in the car in front of him and the desolution of his job. By the next stoplight, the Honda filled with happy girls had turned left and the tall young man was left to his own devices.
(People say they hate the job but love the people. I can't say that. I can almost say the opposite. I love the job, until there are people involved. It's easy. I love some of the people, but certainly not enough to warrant "loving the people.")
As he was lost in thought, he drove past two young boys operating a lemonade stand. $.25 for a cup of lemonade.
(I'm a nice person. I'm a good person. It's not my fault that I can't say "I love the people," is it? I try to love the people. I do love a lot of the people. The people, though? Frankly, I can't stand a lot of the people.)
The young man, even on autopilot, turned before he ought to. He was circling the block.
(The people I don't care for don't know that I don't care for them. I'm nice to them. I ask them about their days, I become interested. I couldn't care less. I don't care. I do the same with the people I love, except it feels real. It is real. These are my friends, but how can they tell?)
The young man pulled his car over to the curb and left it running.
(How does Sean know he's my friend? I'm just as friendly with the sales associate as I am with him. I indicate the same amount of interest.)
"Hey there buddy, I see you're selling drinks!"
"It's a great day to be doing this, it's really hot."
"Let me get a lemonade."
The small boy, about eight years old, opened a small cooler and grabbed a pitcher of lemonade. He put a single ice cube in a small styrofoam cup, and poured the cup full of lemonade.
"Have you sold a lot of drinks today?"
"No, only one so far."
The boy paused.
"But we just started."
(Don't worry little man, you have nothing to be ashamed of.)
"It's a hot day, I'm sure you'll sell some more."
The little boy was still busy filling the cup.
"Are you ready for summer and school to be over?"
"Yes. We only have one more full day and two half days."
The boy's father walked up to the front door of the house to watch his son making his first sell of the afternoon. From behind the glass door, he beamed a smile at the young man, who returned it.
(I am a good person.)
The young boy and young man exchanged the cup of lemonade with one set of hands and a quarter with the other set of hands.
"Have a nice day, I hope you sell a lot of lemonade!"
The young man got back in his running car and drove away, waving goodbye to his new young friend as he left. Although he had been both physically and mentally exhausted from his day's work under the tireless sun, a sip of the cold lemonade brought peace to the young man's mind. He was content as he casually finished his commute home.
(This is not a bad world.)
The receipt did not blow out of the car window as anticipated, but rather got caught up in a wind current and blew around the back seat of the car during the drive home. The young man parked his car at his house, and the receipt gently came to rest in the back seat. As the receipt calmly lay on the cloth, it reminded the young man of himself. Try as it might have, the receipt ultimately stayed where it was put by a force stronger than itself; the tall, thin man. Tired after all of it's blowing around, it lay peacefully in the setting afternoon sunlight.
The young man walked into his house, and, his continued feeling of contentedness having imbibed him with drowsiness, he took a nap.
One of the bad parts of high school is having to talk to the teachers and administrators. A worse part, though, is the dread that anticipates that conversation. It is much like the feeling you get before the date will most certainly lead to sex: a lump in the throat, lightheadedness, impatience. Only before you have to talk to that teacher, the giddiness and guilty, exciting feeling of arousal are no longer there. Only dread. You want it to end. When it does, you go away shaken.
Andrew could not even guess why he was in the headmaster's office. He hadn't done anything wrong. He went to a small prep school so the teachers knew him well; Andrew knew that he was well-liked by the faculty. "I must have pissed them off really bad, but how?" he thought.
Mr. Jackson shut the door behind him when he walked in. He was a thin, high-strung man with an almost effeminate voice. His coffee-fueled energy unnerved Andrew, and lots. He creeped out everyone he met, actually, but he had that inescapable preppy charisma that earned him respect.
"helloandrew." Jackson was no longer in the business of speaking Standard Recieved English. If he had less than a liter of coffee before 11 am, he went through withdrawl. However, the double-edged sword of coffee dictated that Jackson was guaranteed to forever speak in machine gun sentences that vibrated and buzzed like -- well, like a fucking vibrator, frankly. Occasionally he would end sentences with a brief, nasal "heh heh heh" of a laugh, and begin them with an equally short "ahh," which was the sound of his throat opening.
"Hi, how are you today?" Andrew said, polite as always.
"No, I don't."
"areyousure?" Jackson's "sure" ended with a muted, almost silent yet still elongated "ahh," like a tape recorder abruptly running out of batteries, which was uncharacteristic of Jackson, considering his speed-freak like aura.
"I have no clue whatsoever. Seriously."
"ohwellokayandrewthat'sfine. ahhthethingisson, aparentcomplainedtothecounsellingdepartmentthatyoumightbeathreatoyoursafetyandtheschool's."
"A threat? Uh...why?"
Andrew's mouth went dry instantly. He knew the whole story in less than a second.
A few months earlier, he had written a story about a high school in which classes were cancelled early because of a massive snow storm. In it, some of the students start a massive snowball fight, which leads to a brawl involving football players, culminating in a stabbing. The tone of the story was bitter. Andrew based it on an actual day when his school declared early dismissal; The day when his mother took especially long to pick him up, and he stood on the school's front lawn watching big, beefy jocks hit eachother with snowballs and blocks of ice -- calling each other "faggot" and generally being violent. They didn't get in trouble at all, yet kids at the same school were yelled at for wearing trenchcoats, as if your clothing defined your personality: Jane wears designer clothing in pink and green, so she's normal. Dick wears black t-shirts. He must listen to a lot of "goth" music and own illegal firearms. Never mind that Jane is bulemic and drinks alcohol on the weekends despite the fact that she's only fourteen, and that Dick is a well-behaved if quiet young boy who actually wears black because it doesn't show dirt, and listens to Link Wray.
But Andrew really didn't intend to write an editorial on all of that shit. He wrote about the day through his own eyes, and what he saw angered him. He wrote a story in which those that harm others go unpunished. He printed it out and showed it to his friend Rich. He must have left the copy in Rich's room. Rich wouldn't show his dad, his dad probably found it while searching the room for drugs and porno books. The man was exactly the kind of douchebag that would see "danger" and "Threats" in everything, as he viewed the world through a thick pair of paranoia goggles. He didn't like Andrew either, so he had extra incentive to show the authorities the story: Not only was it violent, bitter, and containing the phrase "there was blood in the snow," but it had Andrew's full name, handwritten neatly as could be in blue ink right there at the top of the page.
What Jackson told him was pretty much what he expected. Rich's dad took the story to the guidance counsellor during parent-teacher conferences, and the guidance counsellor told Jackson, who called Andrew into the office.
Andrew was irate, mostly because of Rich's asshole dad and his dad's asshole hobbies, but also because the school took the man seriously.
"Well, I assure you I'm not going to shoot anyone," Andrew said. He was trying to hide how irked he was. He was pulling it off fairly well.
"wellihavenodoubtaboutthat," Jackson said. Jackson was lying. Andrew could tell. Through the collage of syllables that Jackson vomited, Andrew heard a good amount of trust -- but still percieved an edge of doubt in the headmaster's voice. There was maybe even lurking fear. "ahhbutstillandrewwe--theadministration--wantyoutotalktoacounselor. afterallthereisagreatdealofangerbehindthisstory."
"ok.listeni'vearrangedatimeforyoutomeetwithmr.gingrich," said Jackson.
Jack Gingrich was an irritating 27-year-old guiance counselor. Even though his job required pristine "people skills," he seemed to have a forced, nervous friendliness which really gave all the students who talked to him the creeps. Andrew was no exception.
"You see, Andrew, I'm not here to punish you. The administration is really concerned about your safety in particular, as well as the safety of others. Okay?"
Having to sit through lecture and questioning from such a non-entity was a subtle form of punishment. To the school's credit, they didn't automatically expel him; They did want to rehabilitate him in a sense, perhaps in the worst, most self-righteous way. To Andrew, it was not okay. Yet he had no choice but to say: "Yeah."
And so the dialouge began.
"I've read the story," said Jack. "I liked it, frankly." He lied.
"It's kinda angry. I sense that you wrote this because you were angry."
"I guess it is. I dunno. Like..." Andrew trailed off. How the fuck was he supposed to respond to this?
"You seem like a good kid on the outside, Andrew, but it's what's inside that counts. It's okay to tell me if you're angry."
"Well, I'll admit that the story is kinda negative and all, but I don't feel like I'm an angry person. I mean, we all get angry sometimes --"
After Andrew spoke the last sentence, Jack began furiously writing notes on his legal pad. "What do you mean by 'We,' exactly?" he asked.
Andrew was caught totally off-guard. "Uhh...I just meant people in general. You know? Human beings?"
Jack stared at him briefly and said simply "Oh" before scribbling out what he had just written. Before the notes were completely eradicated, Andrew tried reading them. It looked like it said: "multiple personalities?"
Oh my God, Andrew thought to himself, this jackass thinks I'm crazy! What a dick! HE'S NOT EVEN A GODDAMN DOCTOR!
Jack continued the questioning.
"What sorts of things make you mad? Like, are you being teased?"
"Sometimes I get teased, yeah, but it doesn't really make me angry, you know?"
"Do, you know, people you might call "jocks" make fun of you? In the Locker room during gym or anything like that?"
"Some have, I guess."
"You guess? Because, there's a lot of hatred against athletes in this story..."
"Well, I don't hate them or anything. The story is just about a snowball fight."
"...In which jocks are involved."
"And in which a boy is stabbed."
"And all this takes place at a high school."
"I wrote the story, so I know."
Jack inhaled deeply and then sighed. Andrew shifted in his seat. The chair was made of wood and his ass had fallen asleep. His brain would soon follow, or so he thought. Perhaps it would have had Andrew not had the scrap of patience that he clung to so desperately, like the last grappling hook that leads to hell's exit. Only the rope tied to the grappling hook was very, very, long and climbing up it meant being attacked by venomous bats and pissant guidance counselors.
The pause continued and Andrew began to daydream. First, he examined Jack's face out of the corner of his eye. Is this sonofabitch an albino, or just really Irish? he thought. He drifted into thought about a really cute girl in his physics class. She was a bitch with a horrible attitude but at least she looked really good in hip-hugging jeans.
Jack started talking again."I'm confused right now, Andrew. See...you seem really calm right now, but the story you wrote feels like it was written by a very angry and bitter individual."
"I know. The narrator was really mad. Like, if you saw people getting sliced up over a snowball fight, wouldn't you be, too?"
"Well, if people were harmed for any reason I'd be upset. This is why we're having this talk, okay? I don't want you to hurt anyone because you're mad."
"I'm not going to hurt anyone, seriously." He had to say it, so it came out sounding forced -- which was bad.
"I believe you. I don't believe you'd hurt anyone, but I still just sense that you were very angry when you wrote this."
"Maybe I was. I don't know."
"So you think that writing these stories is sort of like stress-relief?"
"Yeah, I guess." Andrew thought about this admission later on in the day. He didn't pay close attention in class. He didn't do homework. He didn't watch much television. He mostly wrote light poetry and short stories. It was what he did a lot of the time, and it was neither a cause of, nor a solution to stress. In any case, he had lied to an authority figure, so -- even in the wake of what happened after he and Jack were finished talking -- he felt like a small victory had been won.
"I'd like to believe you, but I sense that you're getting kind of cross right now. Your answers are really curt."
Andrew had taken enough. It was as though two cars had crashed inside his mind, sending glass shards of hate all throughout his skull, the sawdust smell of the airbags making him dizzy with pissed-offness. "Yeah, I am. I am mad. I'm not in this office for a good reason. I've told you people repeatedly: 'I'm not going to kill anyone, I'm not going to kill anyone,' can't you just give me the benefit of the doubt? I mean, Christ, all I did was write a story about A GOD DAMNED SNOWBALL FIGHT, and no one here believes that it's just that! They think I'm going to fucking come in here with a rifle and start taking people out because of what I wrote! You think I'm going to march my ass in here dual-wielding pistols, target jocks and shit. And why? Because of a fucking story.
"And the story isn't even about some pissed off kid going psycho! You know who does all the hurting in the story? JOCKS. IT'S JOCKS TARGETING JOCKS, NOT 'GEEKS' OR 'OUTCASTS.' OTHER JOCKS. THESE TESTOSTERONE FUCKERS BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF ONE ANTOHER DAILY, BUT NO ONE DOES SHIT! THEY COME TO ME BECAUSE I WRITE ABOUT IT. And yeah, Jack, I'm mad! I'm mad because YOU PEOPLE ARE SO CLOSED MINDED AND QUICK TO JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS BECAUSE YOU FIND CERTAIN THINGS IN YOUR LIFE TO BE 'UNPLEASANT.' For the last time, I'M NOT GOING TO HURT ANYONE, ALRIGHT?! KILLING IS FUCKING WRONG, JACK! I DON'T BELIEVE IN IT! WILL YOU FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE DO YOUR GODDAMN JOB AND LISTEN TO ME?! I'M NOT GOING TO HURT ANYONE!!!"
The secretary in the next room had stopped typing. Down the hall, a statistics class had ground to a halt and the teacher was standing in the hallway, facing the direction of Jack's office. Some kid in that class recognized the screaming voice, and smirked to himself. "I always knew that fag would go nuts one day," he thought.
Jack had gone even more pale than he already was. He had pissed himself ever so slightly. With a trembling hand, he picked up the phone.
Andrew was not officially under arrest. It was standard operating procedure to handcuff him anyway as he was taken to jail for questioning. Mr. Jackson had called the police before he even called Andrew into his office. They searched his bedroom and found an old hunting knife buried in his closet. It was dusty from disuse, and had a sherriff's deputy not picked it up, it would have remained as such.
A squad car was already on it's way to the school to pick Andrew up when by chance Jack Gingrich had called campus secuirty to detain Andrew.
People stared at Andrew as he was lead out of the building. The sky was cloudy. Another underwhelming Pennsylvania afternoon. Hippy girls smoked mentholated cigarettes in the parking lot. One knew Andrew. She brushed her dirty blonde hair out of her face and adjusted her glasses. In a display of hippy-blackface she gave him the peace sign. "Good luck, Andy," she said. He nodded at her in acknowledgement as the cop pushed his head down so it didn't smack the doorway of the cruiser.
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